Meditation is object-less. If you use any object, then it is not meditation; it becomes thinking. It becomes contemplation; it becomes reflection, but not meditation.
This is the most essential point to be understood. This is the essence of a meditative state: that it is object-less. Only consciousness is there, but not conscious ABOUT anything.
Consciousness without being conscious of anything - this is the nature of meditation. But this may create a very depressed mood; this may create pessimism in the mind. It is so difficult to throw even a single thought out of the mind - how can one conceive of being totally thoughtless? It is so difficult to get rid of one object of the mind, that it is inconceivable how to be totally object-less; how to be just a mirror, how to be just conscious without being conscious of anything.
We are never conscious without being conscious of anything - something is always there. And there are some psychologists, some schools of psychology, who say that it is impossible to be conscious without any object. Consciousness to them means consciousness OF SOMETHING. Something must be there; otherwise, we will go to sleep; otherwise, we will become unconscious. But yoga says that ordinarily this is right: as far as the ordinary mind is concerned, if there is no object the mind will go down into sleep, slip down into unconsciousness.
We also are aware of it. If you are thinking something in the night, then sleep becomes impossible, because if some object is present in the mind then you cannot drop into sleep, into unconsciousness.
So if you are thinking, then you cannot go to sleep; you go to sleep only when thinking has ceased.
When thinking has ceased but there is no sleep, only then will you understand what is meant by meditation - but we never know any moment like that. When thoughts cease, thinking ceases, sleep takes over. You are not even aware when sleep has come; you become unconscious.
This is what hypnosis uses as a technique. Hypnosis - any method of hypnotism, any method - uses only this technique: to fix the mind somewhere on one object so intensely that the mind becomes bored of one object. This is the tendency of the mind - mind needs novelty; something new every moment, then it feels alert. If you are in a situation where you have to be aware of only one thing repeatedly then the mind feels bored, and boredom becomes the gate to sleep. So hypnotism uses it. It will give you any object to concentrate on, to concentrate your total consciousness on; then you will feel bored, by and by sleepy, and then sleep will take over. The very word hypnosis means induced sleep. So sleep can be induced if mind is devoid of thoughts.
But yoga says that this is right as far as the ordinary mind is concerned, but this is not right for a meditative mind. Through meditation, mind takes on a new quality, and it becomes possible to be conscious without thoughts. But it is difficult, and to take the jump is arduous.
In Zen there are two schools: one is known as the sudden enlightenment school, and another as the gradual enlightenment school. The sudden school says that any enlightenment is sudden.
You have to take a jump from thought to no-thought, from ignorance to knowledge, from sleep to enlightenment. You have to take a sudden jump. But there are very few followers of the sudden school; there cannot be, because it is inconceivable.
There is another school which is known as the gradual enlightenment school. There are many many followers of it, because the moment one says "gradual," we are at ease - now we can do something.
And in steps, gradually, in degrees we can proceed. In a sudden phenomenon there is no time, so you cannot postpone - you cannot say tomorrow. If the phenomenon can happen suddenly, this very moment, then your mind cannot excuse itself; there is no basis to postpone it. With a gradual school you can say, "Okay, we will try in this life, and if not in this life, then in another life. Gradually we will reach the peak. One step, second step - by steps we will reach to the ultimate." Then you have to divide.
But this UPANISHAD belongs to neither. This is neither sudden nor gradual. This UPANISHAD takes a middle way. It says: It is difficult to take a sudden jump, and it is tedious and long to think in terms of degrees. Then you can go on thinking in infinite degrees. So this UPANISHAD says: Only one step is enough - neither sudden nor gradual. Only one step - only one step in between. To be object-less, to be thought-less and conscious is the goal. Only take one step: from many thoughts to one thought, and from one thought to no-thought. This one thought is suggested in this sutra.
This sutra says:
BY MEDITATING UPON THE LORD PARAMESHWAR, CONSORTED BY MOTHER UMA, THE HIGHEST LORD, THE ALL-POWERFUL, THE THREE-EYED, AND THE EVER-SILENT, THE MEDITATOR REACHES HIM WHO IS THE SOURCE OF ALL MANIFESTATION, THE WITNESS OF ALL, AND WHO IS BEYOND ALL IGNORANCE.
From the world to the ultimate, take any image of God as a single step. This will look strange because we think of God as the ultimate. But the UPANISHADS never think of God as the ultimate. They say, "God is a step towards the ultimate." And they always use for the ultimate the term BRAHMAN, the absolute. God, Ishwara, Parameshwara, is just a step towards the ultimate. God is not the ultimate end. God is just to be used as a technical help for the jump into the ultimate abyss.
Use God as a jumping board from the worldly mind to the ultimate abyss.
This image of God used as a technical help is very typical and strange, because ordinarily the religious mind feels that God is to be ACHIEVED. But yoga says, "God is also just a technical help."
That's why there are systems of yoga which are godless - for example even Buddha's system.
Buddha never talks about God - he discarded God. He created other steps; he discarded God.
Mahavira never, never uses the word "God." He discarded it - he used other techniques as jumping boards. But the ultimate remains the same: Hindus call it brahman, Buddhists call it nirvana, Jainas call it kaivalya. The ultimate remains the same: God is used as a technical help. Any imagery, any symbolism can be used. But it must be such a symbol that when you have used it, you are capable of discarding it.
Buddha has told a parable. He says:
Some villagers crossed a stream by boat. But then they thought, "This boat has helped us so much; otherwise, to cross the stream was impossible. So we must not discard this boat." Then they carried the boat on their heads into the town.
Then the whole village gathered and everyone began to ask, "What is the matter? Have you come to sell this boat in the town? or why are you carrying it? The boat seems so old - just a ruin. Who will purchase it? And we have never seen anyone carrying a boat on the head. Why are you carrying it?"
So they said, "This boat is not ordinary; this has helped us to cross the stream. Without this, it would have been impossible to come to this village, so we cannot be ungrateful to it. Now we will have to carry it."
Buddha always used this parable, and he said, "Every technique, every symbol, every ritual is just a vehicle. The moment you have crossed the stream, discard it. Don't go on carrying it; otherwise, you will be just stupid."
We can understand that those villagers were stupid, foolish. But as far as religious vehicles, techniques, boats are concerned, everyone carries them continuously. If I give you a name "Rama" as a japa, as a repetitive method for your meditation, then one day it is bound to happen that you will come to me and say, "Now I feel very blissful with this mantra. Now I am more at peace, more relaxed. Now I am more fresh, now I am less disturbed, now I am less tense. So now what more to do?"
And if I tell you to drop this name now that you have crossed the stream... now that you have come to the other shore, now drop this name also, then you will feel disturbed. I have advised many, and when I say to them, "Drop this," they say, "What are you telling us? How can we drop this? It is inconceivable. We cannot do this. And this seems profane - how can we? This is a very holy name, and this has helped us so much that we cannot discard it."
No ordinary person - even a Ramakrishna... Ramakrishna used the name of Mother Kali as a mantra continually, for years. He achieved much through it, but not the ultimate. He became silent, he became purified, he became holy; he became everything that we can conceive of a religious man. He became totally a religious man - but still a discontent within, still a desire, the desire for the ultimate. He had not reached the end.
Then he met a Vedanta teacher, Totapuri. And he said to Totapuri, "I have reached a very deep silence but still something is missing; I feel it, something is missing. So what to do now?" So Totapuri said, "Now drop the name of Mother Kali. Drop it - you are carrying the vessel, you are carrying the boat. You have crossed the river; now don't carry this boat." Ramakrishna was absolutely disturbed.
He said, "What are you telling me? - A person like you, a renowned teacher - what are you telling me? To drop the name of Mother Kali? This is simply irreligious, unholy! What are you telling me?
Don't tell me such things!" He began to perspire, he began to tremble - a person like Ramakrishna.
Totapuri laughed and he said, "I knew this. You will feel much disturbed, your whole base has to be destroyed. You have made it a foundation; hitherto this has been your base. Now this has to be destroyed; otherwise, you cannot go further."
For three days Ramakrishna wept, because he had heard such irreligious words. He couldn't speak to anyone; he just closed his door, wept; cried, "Mother! Mother!" and wept. And Totapuri would come and knock at the door, and would say, "Ramakrishna, come to your senses. Drop this name."
After three days, fasting, weeping,Ramakrishna came out, and he said, "If you say, I will do it. But first let me go to the Mother and ask her permission. I cannot do it would her permission." This is how a boat can become so meaningful... and don't laugh at it; even if you are in the state of Ramakrishna, this will happen.
Ramakrishna went to ask the Mother - of course permission was given, because deep down Ramakrishna himself felt that now this name is the only obstacle. If it drops, consciousness will be totally pure; there will be no disturbance. But he couldn't utter it, he couldn't say it. He went to Mother - there was no one; this was his own deep-down unconscious which gave the permission.
He asked the Mother.... If one goes in a very devoted way, continuously, to feel in an image the divine presence, one's own deep unconscious becomes projected. And even from the image, things can come which are just being put there by oneself. It was his own unconscious, it was his own deep existence which responded. So permission was given. He came back, of course, weeping, because the conscious was still clinging, clinging to the name. His own unconscious was ready. He was totally purified, and this last step was to be taken - HAD to be taken, it was a must!
So the unconscious allowed him, but the conscious began to feel guilty again. He came back.
Totapuri said,"Don't feel any guilt. When the Mother herself has allowed, now you drop it." So Ramakrishna sat before Totapuri, closed his eyes, went into deep meditation. Tears were flowing.
Hours pass and Totapuri goes on saying, "Now drop it! Don't continue!" And Ramakrishna is continuing. Tears are flowing; he is weeping and trembling. He cannot stop.
He opens his eyes and says, "It seems impossible. I cannot stop. It seems it is absolutely impossible to stop! How can I myself drop the name? It is my heart of hearts. How can I drop it? This is just...
it seems suicidal, as if I am killing myself. I cannot." And poor Totapuri insists, "Try again, try again."
Then Totapuri says, "This is the last, and I will not remain here for a single moment longer. I am not going to remain here; I will leave this place. So try again, only one." And he brought a piece of glass, and he said, "When you are meditating and when I feel that the image of Kali has come into your consciousness as an object, I will cut your forehead on the third eye spot with this piece of glass.
And when I cut your forehead, you cut the image inside."
Ramakrishna said, "But how can I cut it? And with what? How can I cut it and with what? There is no weapon!"
Totapuri said, "If you can create an image, so alive, by imagination, why can you not create a sword?
You have created the image of Kali so loving, so radiant, so alive, so why not create a sword? You are so capable a man - imagine a sword and then cut it! Otherwise, I am going to leave and you will not find me again."
And Totapuri was a a rare man; to miss that man was to miss for lives. And Ramakrishna knew this, that this was the only man who could help; otherwise, one would have to wait, for lives even. And one is not certain that even after waiting for many lives, a man like Totapuri will be there. So Totapuri stood, and he said, "Now I'll leave. You try."
Ramakrishna closed his eyes - he was weeping, he was crying, screaming; and then Totapuri cut his head. And in a single stroke, Ramakrishna DARED - this is the most daring thing - he dared: he cut the image within. The image broke into two. Tears stopped, crying stopped. And Ramakrishna began to laugh and Ramakrishna began to dance. And Totapuri said, "Now I am leaving. Just tell me in one sentence what has happened."
So Ramakrishna opened his eyes and said, "The last barrier has dropped." And Totapuri disappeared.
Ramakrishna tried and tried for many years to find the man again, to give him thanks, but Totapuri was not found again.
So don't laugh. This middle step can become a barrier, or it can become a jumping board - it depends on you. Use any image, but remember continuously that this is just a technical help.
Remember continuously that this has to be dropped. If you can remember it, then you can use any method, any technique, any image, any help. It is artificial, but for our minds - which cannot take a sudden jump - it helps.